CBS news just ran a segment on how people struggle emotionally with retirement:
In two decades of coaching I have walked dozens of clients through the transition from working, to retiring, to retired. And I’ve noticed their emotional struggle. It comes up so often that I now address it as part of my coaching. And I try to help many prepare for it, because they’re often still thinking about retirement as some fairytale moment. But it’s not. It’s harder. A lot harder. Finding meaning and purpose and joy can be really elusive for people who were thinking of retirement as a magical moment to “begin living.” And we also have to contemplate how physical capability plays a major role in how well the shift does or doesn’t go.
Think of it this way:
Slave until you’re nearly dead; and then, one day, get up every day to go through an unformatted/undirected day where you may have LESS meaning in your life. Add to that, you grind through the day with a battered body which is incapable of doing things it used to. That’s the 1950s to 1990s Western career/retirement model. Since large companies ceased to have retirement plans, pensions, or continued existence, my generation and younger have had to rethink the model anyway. Which is a very good thing. There are almost no stable companies which will keep you employed across a thirty year span without eliminating a division or your title. For most, promotion and reliable employment is a historical artifact.
Frankly, even among the trust fund babies and ultra-successful young people I’ve coached, effectively “retired” young, I find they still have to discover a driving reason to make their weeks matter. The trips and the houses and the cars and the parties grow stale. Simply having free time doesn’t mean you fill it with meaningful moments. The time passes anyway. And often they feel a greater sense of disappointment than working people who at least know they provided for their families that week, tried (successful or not) to give input to their organization that month, and impacted somebody somewhere through sacrifice of their own. LESS growth as MORE time passes doesn’t feed the soul.
That’s what I’ve found it usually takes. Retired people take about three years to get their footing, get a routine, and thrive or not. Intrinsically motivated people do it a little faster. Extrinsically motivated people flounder. Without the imposed structure of work weeks, some people really heartily struggle to create a framework in the week. And as week after week passes, they start to realize they’re merely counting minutes to expiry. It’s not inspiring or motivating. They still don’t write the book they always said they’d write. They still don’t climb the mountain they always said they’d love to climb. They still don’t read all the books they said they didn’t previously have time for. Time passes. Among the lucky ones, by the third round of holidays and birthdays, they at least nail down a balance.
As the CBS article points out, surveys indicate depression hits around a third of retirees. But I’d argue the number is far higher. People are conditioned to say they enjoy retirement, even when they don’t. Ask the most negative complaining retired people, “how’s retirement?”, and within a fraction of a second they’ll retort, “it’s great; it’s wonderful; I love it.” Ask specifically how they’re finding more meaning and more joy, and the facial expression changes. The tone changes too. If they’re candid, the answers change and get murky. Culturally, we want to think of it as a grand time, even when it isn’t. The candor of people admitting the downside is rare. We shouldn’t take that to mean the downside of retirement is rare.
When someone has social connections, weekly appointments, and some structure in retirement, he or she has better emotional footing. Yet, the fact remains that most people are pale physical shadows of what they could be and once were. And that means that even with all the extra free hours, the life lived is less.
They also invest in their physical capability. The CBS segment was right to focus on how financial preparation is insufficient without emotional preparation. But what about physical preparation?
Some of my retired clients have been very clear that they want to achieve physical accomplishments they never previously could do. And we get there. Some say they want to be able to keep crouching down so they can play with the grandkids. And we get there. Some soon-to-be retired clients say they want to be able to hit all the hard hiking trails STILL after retirement. And we get there. Some want to decrease risk of cognitive decline. And we get there. Some just want to reduce risk of osteoporosis or other physical decline. And we get there.
When we train, we can be physically prepared for retirement as well. We can be fittER. Moreover, with physical training, we can retain structure and growth in our weekly schedule. That itself carries a a heft of emotional preparedness. And we shouldn’t easily forget it, because retirement CAN be a good thing. It just isn’t inherently. As such, it might also be wise to remember to live now. Don't wait. Don't wait to live. Don't wait to start improving. Don't wait to invest in your physical self. Don't wait to emotionally prepare. Don't simply wait for a time to arrive and find all you do at that moment is merely wait for the end.